Liza wasn’t dancing-on-the-table drunk. But she’d spent
the evening getting stuck into the Friexenet with
Rochelle and Angie.
And Adam’s mum, Ursula Überhostess, was semaphoring
disapproval across the room with frowning eyebrows.
You’re drinking too much, Liza.
Liza sent back a cheery wave. No, I’m not. Leave me
Rochelle nudged Liza, raising her voice to be heard over
the aunties and uncles singing along with Rihanna about
her umberella-ella-ella. ‘Do we have to stay? If it’s
supposed to be Adam’s birthday party, why are hardly any
of his mates here? I’ve wasted an updo on rellies.’ She
pulled at one of the blonde tendrils that had been
allowed to escape artfully from the roll on the back of
‘Because it’s a “do”,’ Angie put in, wisely. ‘Friends
know there’ll be stacks of rellies, so they stay away.’
She drained her wineglass and Rochelle immediately
refilled it from the satiny black bottle of Friexenet –
the fifth of the six they’d brought from Liza’s fridge.
Glumly, Liza extended her glass for refilling, too. ‘The
others are already clubbing at Muggies, waiting for us.
They keep texting.’ She could see Adam, over the heads of
those on the dance floor, on the stage, talking to the DJ
– one of his army of cousins – and laughing. Adam
wouldn’t hurt the family’s feelings by making an early
escape. She sighed, tragically. ‘I’ll have to stay till
Adam leaves. You two can go, though. I’ll survive wasting
a new dress and pin heels on a hall full of balloons,
paper tablecloths, cardboard plates and homemade buffet.’
Rochelle and Angie rolled their eyes but remained in
their seats under the bobbing You are 30! and 30 Today!
balloons as red-faced, laughing relatives gyrated on the
dance floor under a glitter ball. ‘Booooring,’ Rochelle
‘Sorry, hon.’ But at least relieving boredom was one of
Liza’s talents. Her gaze fell on one of the blue-and-
silver foil balloons. Reeling it in by its slinky satin
ribbon, she put its seal to her mouth, and giggled.
Rochelle brightened immediately. ‘Yeah, Liza, do duck-
The foil made Liza’s teeth feel funny as she bit down,
but soon a little puff of helium hissed out and she could
put her lips over the hole and suck, until her head gave
a tiny telltale spin. ‘Hello Rochelle, hello Angie!’ Her
voice felt curiously smooth as it hit a note at least an
octave higher than usual.
Angie giggled. ‘Hello, Donald Duck!’
Liza laughed – like a cartoon duck – which made Rochelle
and Angie snort Friexenet bubbles of mirth. She inhaled
again. ‘Maybe I should talk duck to Ursula?’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ they gurgled. ‘Ursula will love you talking
Squeezing the deflating balloon, Liza sucked her hardest,
trying to see how high she could make her voice go. Then,
suddenly, relatives began shouting and looking at her,
beaming and applauding.
‘What’s up with them?’ she quacked.
Rochelle shook her head, unable to speak for laughing,
wiping at her mascara with a fingertip.
Adam, still up on stage with Cousin DJ, boomed through
the microphone. ‘Liza? Come up here, sweetheart.’
‘Oh. Shit.’ Suddenly duck voice didn’t seem such a good
Rochelle laid her head on Angie’s shoulder and sobbed
‘LIZA!’ Adam insisted.
Clutching her stomach, Angie began to slide sideways off
And the relatives clapped harder, shouted louder, ‘Lie-
zah! Lie-zah! Up on the stage, Lie-zah!’
‘You … you’ve got to!’ wept Rochelle. ‘It’s a “do”.
Adam’s going to make a speech.’
And a scrum of relatives descended, arms outstretched.
Liza, drink-drenched and helium-headrushed, was powerless
to avoid being hoisted up the three wooden steps and left
teetering at Adam’s side. He smiled, boyishly, taking her
clammy hand in his warm one.
The room fell into waiting silence.
Adam pressed his lips gently to her palm then suddenly –
hideously – dropped to one knee, dark brown eyes
smouldering up at her. Enunciating every word, he said
into the microphone, ‘Liza Reece, will you marry me?’
People whooped and began to clap. Others shushed, wanting
to hear Liza say, ‘Yes!’
‘I think it’s what we both want.’ Adam held the
microphone up to her lips and winked, playfully.
Liza recoiled from his hand and the spongy microphone
that smelled like bad breath. In what universe did he
think she’d want to be publicly cornered into
relinquishing Singledom? Had she missed a discussion
about radically changing her life? Tying herself to Adam?
Her heart pounded in her ears, making it impossible to
think logically about the audience, the occasion, or how
to handle a delicate situation so as not to hurt Adam.
She just opened her mouth and the truth quacked out. ‘No,
I don’t want to marry you.’